It’s easier than ever to build products.

You can learn to code and do it for free, “currency hack” an inexpensive developer on Upwork.com, or simply drag and drop a full-fledged application with tools like Bubble.

Thus, success no longer hinges on venture capitalists, living in The Valley, or having previous experience in tech.

Instead, it relies on the marketer’s ability to identify who the customer is, and where the customer is.

Below are a few case studies, strategies, and tactics outlining my approach to this challenge.

 

Disclaimers

I’m a big fan of Seth Godin, but I only agree with ~half of what he says. Namely, his thoughts on permission marketing.

Permission Marketing is Dead

These days, there’s too much marketing interference. Waiting for permission to share your message is a deathwish disguised as good manners.

To agree with this, however, you must first accept another simple truth:

Nobody cares.

Nobody cares about you, or your company, or your team, or your product… they care about themselves.

This means 2 things:

  1. It’s ok to demand attention (because it’s easy to ignore demands)
  2. The opportunity all marketers share is helping consumers express their own selfishness

Instead of pitching “organic food,” push “higher performance.” Instead of “productivity,” push “spend more time sleeping.”

And since we have the freedom to figure out this pitch, while nobody is listening, the iterative marketing lifecycle just got a lot more fun.

Let’s start with an easy example.

 

Case Study – Keychain Logistics

Please note: the tactics described in this case study will not work for everyone and are used as an example of growth hacking on a specific platform. Growth Marketing Conference cannot be held responsible for any negative outcomes that may happen if you choose to replicate these types of tactics. 

Keychain Logistics

Keychain Logistics, a Ycombinator alum that raised $3mm from the likes of Andreessen Horowitz, is a platform that modernizes freight transportation by brokering real-time shipments between shippers and carriers.

Applying our “who and where” framework yields some pretty obvious answers:

keychain logistics target audience

Keychain needs truckers, and truckers hang out at rest stops.

To reach this audience in “their own backyard,” I hired 7 freelancers in the Philippines and asked them to create 25 Foursquare profiles.

While they did this, I scraped approximately 700 rest stops by crawling the “Locations” tab of diesel fuel giants Pilot Flying J and a few others. I put this data in a spreadsheet, which included columns for the US State, # of diesel pumps, and a few yes/no parameters for “showers” and “has wifi,” etc.

(Protip: It’s generally a good practice to fetch contextual data whenever you’re scraping, which helps prioritize leads later, in scenarios where you scrape too much).

The assistants then, making $1.50 USD per hour, were then given ~75-100 “locations” each, which I assigned by a) granting access to the Google Sheet of rest stops, then b) color-coding which rows belong to which assistant.

For each location, the assistant was instructed to do 2 things…

  1. Leave a tip
  2. Link the tip to a Keychain mobile app hotlink

 

Leaving Tips on Foursquare

When we executed this campaign, it was possible to “check into” any location on Foursquare from a web browser. Honest users wouldn’t earn “points” for a check-in that didn’t have valid GPS data associated to it, but the check-in function itself worked.

Our assistants used this loophole to check into each location, and then write a “tip” for other check-ins and visitors. We learned quickly that all tips must be unique, or you’ll get blocked from writing new ones.

No problem, we left tips like this one at all 700 locations, merging in the location’s City after the first comma:

keychain logistics foursquare marketing hack

And did I mention?

The person we left the tips from was our fake trucker persona, Fernando Ryder. Best $25 stock photo I ever bought.

 

Linking tips on Foursquare

Also unique to the timeframe of this campaign, was the ability to add a “link” to each tip.

This had 2 benefits:

  1. The link was recognized as a link, and thus clickable
  2. The entire tip became clickable, to that link!

Because some truck drivers use iPhone and some use Android, we made a forward URL that would detect the user’s device (via User-Agent in the HTTP Headers, for the nerds!) and then forward the link’s visitor to the proper app store, either in iTunes or Google Play.

 

Getting exposure

Keychain Logistics Fernando Ryder

Leaving these tips was great, but as you can see in the example above, most locations have dozens of tips or more.

We needed ours to rank #1, because a further benefit of #1-ranked Foursquare tips is they automatically pop up to every new check-in.

This is Foursquare’s way of rewarding prolific tippers… free exposure! And if a tip is “liked” by a viewer, it continues to outrank other tips, because Foursquare uses that signal to determine if the tip is high quality.

So here’s what we did with those other accounts: for each of the 25 fake profiles, our assistants re-visited all 700 rest stop locations and “upvoted” the tips written by Fernando Ryder.

Within a few hours, almost all of our tips ranked #1, and were automatically popping up + getting clicked on by 1000s of check-ins to every Pilot Travel Center across the USA.

As a plus, we even got emails from actual truckers, who assumed Fernando was a world traveler.

Keychain Logistis marketing emails

In total, this campaign took less than 1 day of effort, and < $100 in virtual assistants.

 

Case Study – Kisi

Kisi wireless entry

Kisi is a keyless entry hardware/software suite for coworking spaces and corporate offices. They charge monthly in exchange for secure, “fob-less” entry to any building, regardless of lock type, elevator setup, or anything else you can throw at them.

Kisi is kickass.

But in the early days, we had trouble finding the ICP (ideal customer profile). Which, by the way, should actually be called RCP – realistic customer profile.

Let’s run through our framework again to see how it can help: who is your customer, and where is your customer?

Originally, Kisi assumed their target audience was the IT guy, who is also in charge of things like key fobs and other “access management” related operations.

So, we sent some cold email to IT guys and the response was…OK.

But then we had another idea… why not approach the user who actually feels the pain of missing or stolen keys? E.g, the person who literally has to get up from their seat to buzz in a delivery guy, or let in that forgetful coworker who “forgot their keys again…?”

Turns out, this was the office manager or receptionist.

Kisi target audienceNext, we needed to identify the location of these receptionists and office managers.

Were they office managers at WeWork?

No, because WeWork is big enough to build their own access control system.

Were they office managers at indie coworking spaces?

Maybe, slash no, because these were beholden to permission from landlords’ who usually have a thing or two to say about startups from Brooklyn drilling holes in their doors and elevator shafts.

Rather, the ideal customer [buying] profile for Kisi was the office manager at a company, big enough to command their own floor, or at least their own private offices.

Kjsi target customer office

With this target audience fleshed out, we’re ready to execute.

 

Cold Email Done Right

A lot of people do cold email wrong. I personally quit cold email recently, after observing a sharp decline in its efficacy.

But done right, cold email is an art.

To make Kisi’s messages more compelling, we devised a 3-step process for personalizing every message — not just with {{ first_name }} merge variables, but with images.

How we did it:

  1. Clearbit’s free logo API to turn website domains into logos
  2. Photoshop “actions” to automatically crop, resize, and embed logos on the Kisi mobile interface

Before this project, Kisi’s mobile interface was kinda bland:

 

Kisi Mobile Interface

After adding personalized imagery, we started sending emails like this…

Kisi cold email example

Kisi cold email example

By getting straight to the point inside our subject line — “new office keys for {{ company name }}” — the receiving team member was already on a bit of alert (demanding attention, not asking permission).

Then, by merging the prospect’s company logo into the email itself, a quick scan added immediate legitimacy to the message, often leading the prospect to assume we spent several minutes crafting this message, and that it couldn’t have possibly been mass-mailed.

(Protip: when a prospect is convinced you emailed them personally, they reply. Not because they’re interested, but because human nature compels reciprocity. On the other hand, obviously mass-emailed messages get no reply, which still follows this law of reciprocity, except the parameters are zero-effort sent, zero-effort received.)

Another change that helped these emails perform better, was switching from the “IT Geek” vernacular of “Access Management” and instead keeping it casual by saying, “new office keys.”

While the founders still wanted high-tech lingo, we stuck it at the end as a compromise. 😉

Needless to say, these iterations in the target audience and how we messaged them, led to material new leads for the Kisi sales team.

 

Third Rule of Growth

marketing challenge - scale the where

Earlier in this post, I lied.

I told you there were just 2 rules to growth — who, and where your customer is.

But that’s not entirely true… there’s a 3rd question, that all successful companies answer.

 

Scale the where.

Suppose you even get this far — you’ve identified your target audience, and can replicate conversions with predictability.

Awesome.

But how do you ensure new customers outweigh cancellations, every month?

How do you ensure new customers cost less to acquire than the value extracted from them (in revenue, ads, whatever)?

This is where scaling the 2nd aspect of the framework, “where” your customer is, becomes critical.

You’ll notice in the case studies above, that we didn’t stop at a single trucker rest stop, or a single coworking space office manager. We didn’t leave a single tip, or write a single email, or scrape a single logo and export a single Photoshop file.

Rather, after validating the who and the why, we scaled the campaign to 100s or 1,000s of prospects.

 

High-tech, Low-tech

In the second example, Kisi, we scaled the where with Photoshop actions, APIs, and more advanced scraping techniques on resources like digital.nyc (gov’t funded) and Made in NYC (side project directory).

But in the first example, Keychain, we leveraged inexpensive human capital in the Philippines.

There was no special technical know-how involved in the campaign, besides maybe url forwarding to the App Store vs Google Play.

Even the scraping was something anybody can do with Import.io.

 

What this means

You don’t have to be a developer to use technology to scale growth.

Sure, writing a Ruby script is pretty technical.

But so is writing a process-oriented hiring script on Upwork.

Whether you choose to communicate with machines or humans, systems-oriented thinking is the crux to putting these pieces together, and “not knowing how to code” is no longer a valid excuse.

 

Putting It All Together

We probably get the same emails.

You know, those weekly digests and daily tips from GrowthHackers, grow.co, and others.

They’re all telling us to “try this, try that.”

They tell us about the latest changes to Google’s algorithm, and how to go viral on YouTube, and how to write Kickstarter copy that gets higher conversion rates.

All of this is great, but it assumes something really really big: that you’ve identified your target audience (who), and all you need to do is scale the where.

From my experiences helping grow over 40 venture-backed startups, I’ve learned this advice avoids the “who and where” framework for one reason: it’s not easy to prescribe.

You can’t send a newsletter to thousands of marketers, with the exact things they should do to identify their audience.

But you can tell them about Facebook’s ideal banner ad placement.

 

So here it is:

If you have customers already…

Articulate the characteristics of your top 3 customers. How much they pay, how they found you, why they chose you vs a competitor, where they live, what they do for fun, where they hang out online, who they trust…

 

If you don’t already have customers…

Are you an entrepreneur?

Good news: this is your business. You have the freedom to chase the customer you want to have.

But a note on customers you want to have: they should be equal to the customers you deserve to have, today, with the current status of your product or service.

Not the customer you’ll deserve in 6 months, after you build X-Y-Z, or after you get the social proof from users A-B-C. What describes the customer who would use your product today, if only they knew it existed?

Hint: the answer isn’t “everybody”. It isn’t even “everybody who does ___” and lives in “____”. It’s probably a smaller group.

Maybe try: “my best friend’s roommate who inspired the idea.” Or, “my ex-boss who supported me when I quit.”

After securing your first few customers, look for patterns between them, then articulate those patterns (yes, write them down) to look for meta patterns.

 

Keychain

  • who: truckers → meta pattern → independent owner-operators → meta pattern → full truck-load, long haul
  • where: rest stops → meta pattern → tech savvy → meta pattern  trucker blogs

 

Kisi:

  • who: people at offices → meta pattern → office managers → meta pattern → receptionists with influence
  • where: new york city → meta pattern → newer buildings → meta pattern → long-term leases

And so on, and so on.

 

Perhaps the paradigm of finding customer-market fit is that it gets easier as you do it.

While this means earlier days less data-driven, it also creates a nice barrier to entry for to those unwilling to make a few guesses and be wrong.

And that is perhaps the most beautiful aspect of entrepreneurship…

We can be wrong a thousand times. We only have to be right once.

So go find your customers, spend time with them, and then find a few more.

Good luck.

 

About the Author:

Ryan Kulp

Ryan Kulp

 

Ryan is the founder and CEO of Fomo, a social proof marketing platform with over 3,500 paying customers. Previously, Ryan worked in venture capital and ran growth at several YCombinator / Techstars alumni companies.